Shetland's Year of Festivals

by Steve Mathieson

There's a wealth of festivals covering all kinds of interests and activities organised throughout the year in Shetland. Here's a brief outline of some of the more well-known events...

Photo: Gordon Siegel Zoom Photo: Gordon Siegel JANUARY-MARCHThe urge to celebrate hits Shetland early each year with the most spectacular of its festivals, Lerwick Up Helly Aa (last Tuesdayin January). This is Europe’s biggest fire festival, with a thousand “guizers” carrying flaming torches and burning a full-sized replica Viking galley. This is preceded in mid-January by Scalloway Fire Festival, then followed by another eight through February and March in communities across the isles.

MARCH: Shetland County Drama Festival takes to the boards of Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre for four days of theatrical offerings to cater for all tastes. The 2019 event is the 69th.

APRIL: Shetland's young fiddlers compete for the Shetland Folk Society Young Fiddler of the Year title at Mareel (26th & 27th April, 2019)

MAY: Shetland’s musical tradition is showcased perfectly by the high quality local and international musicians who take part in the renowned Shetland Folk Festival (2nd-5th May, 2019), held all over the isles. Advanced booking is advised.

JUNE sees the Midsummer Carnival in Lerwick, featuring brightly-clad floats and a fancy dress parade. Also the Simmer Dim Rally, where motorcyclists from all over the world congregate in Ollaberry. The biggest ocean yacht-racing event in the North Sea is the Bergen-Shetland Race, first leg from Bergen (26th June, 2019), return from Lerwick (29th).

Photo: Chris Brown Zoom Photo: Chris Brown JULY: Shetland Nature Festival (6th-14th July, 2019) features guided walks, children’s activities, wildlife workshops and adventure activities like exploring the seabird haven of Noss. UnstFest (13th-21st July, 2019) on Britain’s most northerly island, has activities such as guided walks, Viking village, and beach fun day. Last but not least in July (18th-22nd) is Folk Frenzy, featuring concerts and workshops celebrating Shetland fiddle music.

AUGUST: Shetland Boat Week, based around the Shetland Museum, showcases Shetland’s marine heritage and includes boat trips, tours, children’s activities and demonstrations of traditional skills. Screenplay Film Festival attracts internationally renowned film professionals to take part in lectures, screenings and discussions, based at Mareel. The main Shetland Agricultural Shows take place at Voe, Walls, Cunningsburgh, Unst and Yell.

SEPTEMBER features Shetland Wool Week, a celebration of the islands’ high quality yarn, the craftspeople who use it to make incredible products and the native sheep from which it originates. This festival includes classes, exhibitions and tours.

Photo: Richard Ashbee Zoom Photo: Richard Ashbee OCTOBER: The Taste of Shetland Festival at Clickimin Centre celebrates Shetland’s food and drink offering, with demonstrations from high-profile chefs, a wide range of stalls from local producers and samples of Shetland’s finest ingredients. The Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival is held over five days, with traditional Scottish dance music played by musicians from around the globe and ending with one of the UK’s biggest traditional dances.

NOVEMBER: Wordplay is Shetland Arts book festival at Mareel, featuring international, national and local writers and a mix of workshops, children’s activities, book signings and readings. This month also sees the annual Craft Fair at Clickimin that showcases the extraordinary skills of local artists, designers and makers. The products range from traditional to modern, from knitwear to furniture, all inspired by our island home.

DECEMBER: The year is rounded off by the Lerwick Winter Festival and Christmas Parade, featuring local musicians, competitions, the spectacular arrival of Santa by lifeboat, and Christmas lights.

Check The Shetland Times’s regularly-updated events list for more.